Lady, Stay Dead (1981)

Article 4600 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 8-6-2014
Directed by Terry Bourke
Featuring Chard Hayward, Louise Howitt, Deborah Coulls
Country: Australia
What it is: Psycho killer movie

A gardener is sexually obsessed with a movie star for whom he works. When he manages to find her alone, he rapes and murders her. When the star’s sister shows up unexpectedly, he must kill her to cover up his crime.

Those who are drawn to this movie for its sleaze factor will probably prefer the first half of the movie, which is where the rape scene and all the nudity can be found. Those who are more interested in the horror/thriller aspects of the movie will probably prefer the final half of the movie, where the gardener lays siege to the sister. However, those hoping for a credible, believable movie will come up short-handed. One problem I have is that the gardener never becomes a consistent character; he seems confidently in control at certain times, comes across as mentally deficient at others, and essentially bends to the winds of whatever is convenient for the story, whether it’s right for the character or not. I also wonder why the police (who let us know that they know about the gardener and imply that he’s responsible for other crimes) were letting this guy run wild in the first place. I also get quite annoyed at the stupidity of the sister, who responds to the siege of the gardener by screaming, blubbering, and doing practically everything she can to make sure the gardener knows just where she is at any given moment. I’ve probably said this before, but I always find it a lot scarier when someone who is doing their level best to deal with an attacker nevertheless remains in danger than I do when someone just makes themselves a sitting duck.

Lifeforce (1985)

Article 4577 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-12-2014
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Featuring Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth
Country: UK / USA
What it is: Apocalyptic science fiction/horror

An outer space probe investigating Halley’s Comet brings to Earth several human-looking figures in suspended animation they found aboard a huge ship they discovered in space. However, the figures turn out to vampire-like creatures with a goal of draining the life from the planet.

Part vampire movie, part zombie movie, part science fiction thriller with touches of ALIEN (Dan O’Bannon was one of the screenwriters), and (most interestingly) part Quatermass-style epic, one can’t help but admire at the very least the sheer ambition of the movie. I will say this much; the movie was interesting enough to hold my attention to the end. I’m just not sure I can say I was quite satisfied with it. It’s quite uneven at times, especially during the awkward and clumsy opening ten minutes of the movie. It gets better after that, but it never quite draws me in completely. Part of the problem is that the movie seems to be trying too hard to be big; there’s something about the rousing score, the occasional descents into histrionics, and the special-effects-laden climax that really had me wishing the movie had tried for a quieter form of suspense rather than loud spectacle. Ultimately, as interesting as it was in some ways, I found it hard to feel any real emotion about it at all. As such, I doubt that the movie will have any real lasting impact on me, and I’ll probably see it more as an interesting failure than a success.

Leaves from the Book of Satan (1920)

aka Leaves from Satan’s Book, Blade af Satans bog
Article 4565 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 6-24-2014
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Featuring Helge Nissen, Halvard Hoff, Jacob Texiere
Country: Denmark
What it is: Epic anthology

Satan is condemned to an existence of trying to turn people away from God; for each success, he has 100 years added to his sentence, but for each failure he has 1000 years taken off his sentence. We then see him in action throughout several periods of history.

Carl Theodor Dreyer was inspired to make this movie after having seen D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, and though he doesn’t match it in scope, size or length, it does seem more focused and less inclined to melodramatics. The four historical events he chooses to portray are the betrayal of Christ, the Spanish Inquisition, the French Revolution and the (at that time) current event of the Finnish civil war. Satan appears as a character in each story, though under a human guise. Taken as individual stories, the identity of a character as Satan could have been dispensed with in three of the stories; however, in the French Revolution story, not only does the character openly admit to being Satan to another character, but a genuine supernatural event pops up in the story. Furthermore, taken as a whole, the Satan character is essential to the unity of the movie. I found the French Revolution story to be the most engaging, while the Spanish Inquisition story is also pretty good. The Christ story, though it features an excellent performance Jacob Texiere as Judas, is marred by the fact that he is practically the only character that has any dimension, and the Finnish civil war sequences is a bit confusing, though this may be partially due to the fact that from today’s perspective, it is the most obscure of the events (though it certainly wasn’t in the time and place when the movie was made). Overall, this is the weakest of the Dreyer films I’ve seen for this series, as I found both VAMPYR and DAY OF WRATH to be more intriguing.

The Lords of Magick (1989)

Article 4519 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-29-2014
Directed by David Marsh
Featuring Jarrett Parker, Mark Gauthier, Brendan Dillon Jr.
Country: USA
What it is: Possibly the worst epic fantasy ever made

In the tenth century, two brothers, both white wizards, are sent on a quest to rescue a princess from an evil sorcerer. Their journey takes them 1000 years into the future where they wield magic in modern times.

To begin with, my hat is off to director/producer/writer/editor/special effects wizard David Marsh. Why? Because he actually managed to get this off the ground, shoot it, and finish it, all on a budget that I suspect wouldn’t have made Ed Wood envious. In some ways, the sheer awfulness of the thing is beside the point; he managed to get it made without the benefit of a decent script or competent actors. It had to have taken a certain amount of passion, and I admire that. Nevertheless, despite the plenitude of campy elements, this movie makes for heavy going, and the crude sense of humor that permeates the movie really gets annoying. Incidentally, this is the only movie credit for the director and the three listed leads.

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)

Article 4518 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-28-2014
Directed by Fred Barzyk and David R. Loxton
Featuring Bruce Davison, Kevin Conway, Margaret Avery
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: A dream that sticks with you

A man undergoes voluntary therapy with a dream psychiatrist to find a cure for his condition – his dreams affect the real world. The psychiatrist, who can exude some control over the dreams of his patients, decides to use the man’s abilities to try to change the world for the better…

This is a very effective adaptation of the Ursula K. Le Guin novel of the same name, especially when you consider that the financial resources for the project (it was made for PBS) were probably rather slim. I read the novel many years ago, and though I don’t remember it very well, this adaptation did bring back certain memories of it. It’s something of a cross between “The Monkey’s Paw” and a “scientist playing God” story. It’s an excellent and fascinating movie, well acted and directed, and it’s only in the final scenes where the limited budget causes problems; I’m not exactly sure what’s going on, and I may have to reread to the book to find out. Incidentally, this movie could not be rebroadcast for twenty years due to rights issue involving a Beatles song; it wasn’t until a different vocalist was used for the song that it was shown again.

Looker (1981)

LOOKER (1981)
Article 4460 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 2-25-2014
Directed by Michael Crichton
Featuring Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey
Country: USA
What it is: High-tech thriller

When several of his patients die mysterious deaths, a plastic surgeon begins to suspect that something foul is afoot, as all of them were commercial actresses who worked with a company called Digital Matrix… and a fourth patient may be the next victim.

There’s an eerie prophetic quality to the science fiction aspects of this thriller; with a premise that involves the creation of fully controllable computer-generated images modeled off of beautiful actresses, it’s not hard to see a connection to recent CGI technology. There’s some stunning use of set design, and there’s some stylish direction as well, and the acting is very strong. The problem is that the story gets a little lost in the mix; it hints at several side issues (such as the use of the technology for political manipulation and the that the doctor is being framed for the deaths of the models) that remain undeveloped, certain plot developments don’t make much sense, and though there’s something fascinating about the gun that can be used to freeze someone’s mind so that they skip a few minutes of time, I’m not quite sure what it’s doing in this movie. Furthermore, the stylish qualities sometimes work against the movie; the entire climax of the movie may be fun to look at, but it’s also seems so distant that it generates virtually no suspense. In the end, I found the movie more interesting than exciting, and I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied; it’s more of a nice try than a success.

Lesnaya pesnya (1963)

aka Song of the Forest
Article 4409 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-1-2014
Directed by Viktor Ivchenko
Featuring Raisa Nedashkovskaya, M. Sidorchuk, Pyotr Vesklyarov
Country: Soviet Union
What it is: Romantic fantasy

A water nymph falls in love with a country boy, but she finds she cannot fit into his world and loses him to another woman. Tragedy follows in its wake.

Here’s another movie for which I had no English subtitles or dubbing; my copy is in Russian. However, this being a fairy tale-type fantasy, it lends itself to being told visually, and along with the help of a plot description I found in “The Motion Picture Guide”, I was more or less able to follow it. It certainly has that sense of magic beauty I associate with fairy tales, and there’s plenty of fantastic content and characters. It is also, sadly, fairly slow to get going; it seems as if the entire first half of the movie deals with the romance of the two main characters, and it gets a little dull. It’s not until the nymph tries to fit in to the young man’s world that the story really gets going. It’s not as wild as some other Russian fantasies I’ve seen (JACK FROST, for instance), but I think it’s trying for a different effect; it’s something of a tear-jerker, and the ending is very bittersweet. Still, when it works, it is quite effective, and it’s nice to have been able to watch a movie in a foreign language that didn’t leave me scratching my head.